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Jesus Christ and the Sabbath

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“And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath’ ” (Mark 2:27-28 Mark 2:27-28 27 And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
American King James Version×
).

How did Jesus Christ view the Sabbath? Many people see only what they want to see regarding His approach to the seventh day. Some believe, based on misunderstandings, that Jesus came to do away with the law and thus ignored or deliberately broke the Sabbath commandment.

Actually, the Sabbath is mentioned almost 50 times in the four Gospels (more than in the entire first five books of the Bible!), so we have ample historical record of His attitude toward the Sabbath. To understand the Gospel accounts, however, we must consider how Sabbath observance had changed—or, more properly, had been changed—since its inception and later inclusion in the Ten Commandments.

The Sabbath in history

Sabbath observance underwent a dramatic transformation in the centuries leading up to the time of Christ.

Earlier in this booklet we reviewed how God warned Israel not to forget His mighty works and laws. The ancient Israelites’ sad record shows they didn’t listen. Eventually Israel did forget God and disintegrated as a nation, dividing into the separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah before being taken away into captivity by Assyrian and Babylonian invaders in the eighth and sixth centuries B.C., respectively.

One of the Israelites’ most flagrant sins leading up to their national captivity was the violation of God’s Sabbath. Even as the kingdom of Judah was self-destructing from its citizens’ sinful behavior, God continued to warn them through the prophet Jeremiah to “bear no burden on the Sabbath day … nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers … But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day … then I will kindle a fire … , and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched” (Jeremiah 17:21-22 Jeremiah 17:21-22 21 Thus said the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; 22 Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do you any work, but hallow you the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.
American King James Version×
, Jeremiah 17:27 Jeremiah 17:27But if you will not listen to me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
American King James Version×
).

Through the prophet Ezekiel, in Babylon after he and much of the kingdom of Judah had been taken into captivity, God said of the Israelites: “I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. Yet … they greatly defiled My Sabbaths … They despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths” (Ezekiel 20:12-16 Ezekiel 20:12-16 12 Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them. 13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. 14 But I worked for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out. 15 Yet also I lifted up my hand to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; 16 Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols.
American King James Version×
).

God also said of His people, “Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them” (Ezekiel 22:26 Ezekiel 22:26Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned my holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.
American King James Version×
).

Later, many of the Jewish captives returned from Babylon and were restored to their former lands several centuries before Christ’s time. They knew from the messages of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that their nation had been destroyed for breaking God’s law, and violating the Sabbath was one of their chief sins.

Once restored as a nation, they determined never to make the same mistake again. Consequently, over several centuries Jewish religious authorities crafted meticulous regulations detailing exactly what they considered permissible and impermissible on the Sabbath. They veered from one ditch to the other—from ignoring and abusing the Sabbath to imposing an oppressive, legalistic observance of the day.

Religious authorities added burdensome Sabbath regulations

The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary describes how extreme these measures had become by Christ’s day. The religious code regarding the Sabbath listed: 

“39 principal classes of prohibited actions: sowing, plowing, reaping, gathering into sheaves, threshing, winnowing, cleansing, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking … Each of these chief enactments was further discussed and elaborated, so that actually there were several hundred things a conscientious, law-abiding Jew could not do on the sabbath.

“For example, the prohibition about tying a knot was much too general, and so it became necessary to state what kinds of knots were prohibited and what kind not. It was accordingly laid down that allowable knots were those that could be untied with one hand …

“The prohibition regarding writing on the sabbath was further defined as follows: ‘He who writes two letters with his right or his left hand, whether of one kind [of letter] or of two kinds, … is guilty. He even who should from forgetfulness write two letters is guilty … Also he who writes on two walls which form an angle, or on the two tablets of his account-book, so that they can be read together, is guilty” (1967, “Sabbath,” p. 736).

Authorities defined “work” in extreme ways

The religious authorities’ definition of “work” that could violate the Sabbath command was vastly different from any ordinary definition of work. For example, plowing was a prohibited-work category, and few would dispute that plowing is difficult work. However, according to first-century rabbinic opinion, the prohibition against plowing could be violated by simply spitting on the ground. The spit could disturb the soil, which in the rabbis’ view was a type of plowing! Women were forbidden to look into a mirror on the Sabbath, because they might see a gray hair and pull it out, and that would constitute work.

Wearing nailed shoes on the Sabbath was prohibited, because in the authorities’ view the addition of the nails meant they were carrying an unnecessary burden. Even walking through grass was not allowed, because some of the grass might be bent and broken, which constituted threshing, one of the forbidden categories of work.

The religious leaders taught that if a house caught on fire on the Sabbath, its inhabitants couldn’t carry their clothes out of the house to spare them from the flames because that would be bearing a burden. However, they were allowed to put on all the layers of clothing they could wear and thus remove the clothes by wearing them, which was acceptable.

This was the kind of charged, hypercritical religious atmosphere Jesus Christ entered with His teaching and preaching. Today, without this historical context of how religious authorities had twisted and distorted God’s Sabbath commandment, many people draw wrong conclusions about how Jesus viewed the Sabbath.

The writers of the Gospel accounts record numerous confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day concerning the Sabbath. His healings on the Sabbath and His teachings about Sabbath observance stirred frequent controversy. A brief view of the biblical record of His actions and teachings will help us understand how Christ viewed the Sabbath.

As we review these accounts of His life, keep in mind their chronology. Bible scholars generally agree that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written in the first century, from the 50s through the 70s, some 20 to 40 years after the events recorded in them occurred (John, they believe, wrote his Gospel near the end of the first century). If Jesus intended to change, abolish or annul the Sabbath, that intent should be apparent in the Gospel writers’ historical records of His life. But as we will see, there is simply no evidence to support that view.

Jesus proclaims He is the Messiah on the Sabbath

The first mention of the Sabbath in the life of Christ is Luke 4:16 Luke 4:16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
American King James Version×
: “So He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.”

In this, the Gospels’ first mention of the Sabbath, at the very beginning of Christ’s ministry, we find that Jesus’ custom—His normal activity—was to go “into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” This was not an isolated incident; He would later continue to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath as well (Mark 6:2 Mark 6:2And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From where has this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given to him, that even such mighty works are worked by his hands?
American King James Version×
; Luke 13:10 Luke 13:10And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
American King James Version×
).

Continuing in Luke’s account: “He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ Then He closed the book … And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ ” (Luke 4:17-21 Luke 4:17-21 17 And there was delivered to him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say to them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 Isaiah 61:1-2 1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me; because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
American King James Version×
, which those in the synagogue recognized as a prophecy of the messianic age. By saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus claimed to be fulfilling this prophecy—and thereby proclaimed Himself the expected Messiah! Jesus went on to compare His ministry to that of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. His listeners, clearly understanding His meaning, promptly tried to kill Jesus for this claim, but He escaped from them (Luke 4:23-30 Luke 4:23-30 23 And he said to them, You will surely say to me this proverb, Physician, heal yourself: whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your country. 24 And he said, Truly I say to you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. 25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But to none of them was Elias sent, save to Sarepta, a city of Sidon, to a woman that was a widow. 27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill where on their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. 30 But he passing through the middle of them went his way,
American King James Version×
).

This is the first mention of the Sabbath during His ministry. On that day Jesus Christ first proclaimed that He was the prophesied Messiah— introducing His mission as Savior and Lord of all humanity. This was a significant event. Nazareth was where He grew up. Now, on that Sabbath, the people of Nazareth were the first to hear, directly from Him, that He was the Messiah. He pointed them to the hope of His future reign—the gospel, or good news, in both its present and future fulfillment.

Jesus heals and casts out demons on the Sabbath

Immediately, Jesus began to use the Sabbath to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God and to manifest His miraculous power as the Messiah. “Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority” (Luke 4:31-32 Luke 4:31-32 31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. 32 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power.
American King James Version×
).

Next, Jesus ordered a demon out of a man, and those in the synagogue “were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, ‘What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out’ ” (Luke 4:33-36 Luke 4:33-36 33 And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, 34 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth? are you come to destroy us? I know you who you are; the Holy One of God. 35 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold your peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the middle, he came out of him, and hurt him not. 36 And they were all amazed, and spoke among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus then went to Peter’s house, where He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Finally, as the Sabbath day drew to a close, “all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God!’ And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ” (Luke 4:38-41 Luke 4:38-41 38 And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever; and they sought him for her. 39 And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered to them. 40 Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them. 41 And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, You are Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ.
American King James Version×
).

As the Savior, Jesus understood the purpose of the Sabbath, that it was a perfectly appropriate time to bring His message of healing, hope and redemption to humanity and to live that message through His actions. Even the demons recognized that He was the prophesied Messiah (which is the meaning of “Christ,” John 1:41 John 1:41He first finds his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
American King James Version×
), the promised King and Deliverer. Jesus used the Sabbath to point people to Him as the Healer and Savior of mankind.

Pharisees confront Jesus over His disciples’ actions on the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-8 Matthew 12:1-8 1 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, Behold, your disciples do that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath day. 3 But he said to them, Have you not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; 4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the show bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? 6 But I say to you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.
American King James Version×
, Mark 2:23-28 Mark 2:23-28 23 And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25 And he said to them, Have you never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the show bread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? 27 And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
American King James Version×
and Luke 6:1-5 Luke 6:1-5 1 And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. 2 And certain of the Pharisees said to them, Why do you that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days? 3 And Jesus answering them said, Have you not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungered, and they which were with him; 4 How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the show bread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone? 5 And he said to them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
American King James Version×
are passages misconstrued to imply that Jesus broke the Sabbath commandment. But let’s see what really happened. Mark’s account states: “He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’” (Mark 2:23-24 Mark 2:23-24 23 And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
American King James Version×
).

The Pharisees were an excessively strict branch of Judaism holding considerable religious authority during Christ’s time. As we saw earlier, they were extreme in their interpretation of what was allowed on the Sabbath. Their question would make it appear the disciples were hard at work gathering grain on the Sabbath and were confronted by the Pharisees for violating it. Luke’s account clarifies the disciples’ actions: As they “went through the grainfields,” they “plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands” (Luke 6:1 Luke 6:1And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.
American King James Version×
). They did this because they were hungry (Matthew 12:1 Matthew 12:1At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.
American King James Version×
), not because they were harvesting the field.

Christ’s disciples didn’t violate the Sabbath commandment

Their actions were perfectly acceptable according to the laws God had given the nation of Israel. As a matter of fact, God made specific allowance for picking handfuls of grain from another person’s field as the disciples were doing here (Deuteronomy 23:25 Deuteronomy 23:25When you come into the standing corn of your neighbor, then you may pluck the ears with your hand; but you shall not move a sickle to your neighbor’s standing corn.
American King James Version×
). God even told His people to leave portions of their fields unharvested so the poor and travelers would be able to eat what was left (Leviticus 19:9-10 Leviticus 19:9-10 9 And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 And you shall not glean your vineyard, neither shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
; Leviticus 23:22 Leviticus 23:22And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not make clean riddance of the corners of your field when you reap, neither shall you gather any gleaning of your harvest: you shall leave them to the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
).

The disciples were walking through the field, and as they walked they picked heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands to remove the chaff, then ate the kernels. Requiring almost no effort, this could hardly be construed as work. Yet the Pharisees, who were among the most strict in their rules concerning the Sabbath, viewed the disciples’ actions as “reaping” and “threshing,” which were among the 39 categories of work forbidden on that day. Although these actions did not violate God’s Sabbath commandment, they did violate the Pharisees’ man-made regulations. The Pharisees viewed the disciples’ conduct as “not lawful on the Sabbath” and criticized them for it.

God’s law allowed for mercy on the Sabbath

Jesus pointed out that King David and his hungry followers, when they were fleeing King Saul’s armies, were given bread that was normally to be eaten only by priests, yet they were guiltless in God’s sight (Mark 2:25-26 Mark 2:25-26 25 And he said to them, Have you never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the show bread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
American King James Version×
). He also pointed out that even the priests serving in the temple of God labored on the Sabbath by conducting worship services and performing sacrifices, but God held them blameless (Matthew 12:5 Matthew 12:5Or have you not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?
American King James Version×
).

In both examples, the spirit and intent of the law were not broken, and both instances were specifically allowed by God for the greater good, Christ said. He emphasized that God’s law allowed for mercy, and the Pharisees were completely wrong in elevating their harsh, humanly devised regulations above everything else, including mercy.

He said that, because of the Pharisees’ distorted view, they had actually turned matters upside down. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” He countered. Because of their narrow, legalistic view of the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week had become a hardship, weighted down with hundreds of rules and regulations.

Jesus, however, pointed out the true purpose of the day intended from its inception: God created the day to be a blessing, a time for genuine rest from normal labors rather than an unmanageable, overly restrictive burden. It was a time to be enjoyed, not endured. Further, He said the Sabbath was created for all mankind, not just for the nation of Israel.

Jesus’ teaching in these verses is summarized in The Anchor Bible Dictionary: “At times Jesus is interpreted to have abrogated or suspended the sabbath commandment on the basis of the controversies brought about by sabbath healings and other acts. Careful analysis of the respective passages does not seem to give credence to this interpretation.

“The action of plucking ears of grain on the sabbath by the disciples is particularly important in this matter. Jesus makes a foundational pronouncement … : ‘The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath’ (Mark 2:27 Mark 2:27And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
American King James Version×
). The disciples’ act of plucking grain infringed against the rabbinic halakhah [way to walk, denoting law from tradition] of minute casuistry [case-based reasoning] in which it was forbidden to reap, thresh, winnow, and grind on the Sabbath …

“Jesus reforms the sabbath and restores it to its rightful place as designed in creation, where the sabbath is made for all mankind and not specifically for Israel, as claimed by normative Judaism … It was God’s will at creation that the sabbath have the purpose of serving mankind for rest and [to] bring blessing” (1992, Vol. 5, “Sabbath,” p. 855).

In this example, we see that Jesus Christ understood and explained the Sabbath’s true intent—that it was created to be a day of rest from normal labors, a blessing and benefit to all humanity.

Another Sabbath healing

Immediately after the dispute with the Pharisees over the disciples’ plucking grain on the Sabbath, the Gospel accounts record that Jesus found Himself in another confrontation over what could and could not be lawfully done on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14 Matthew 12:9-14 9 And when he was departed there, he went into their synagogue: 10 And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. 11 And he said to them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? 12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Why it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. 13 Then said he to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. 14 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.
American King James Version×
; Mark 3:1-6 Mark 3:1-6 1 And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4 And he said to them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 6 And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
American King James Version×
; Luke 6:6-11 Luke 6:6-11 6 And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the middle. And he arose and stood forth. 9 Then said Jesus to them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? 10 And looking round about on them all, he said to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 11 And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.
American King James Version×
). The Pharisees’ intolerant regulations went so far as to forbid giving aid to someone who was ill on the Sabbath unless the person’s life was in jeopardy!

In the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus met a man with a withered, shriveled hand—a severe handicap, but not life-threatening. “Stand up in front of everyone,” Jesus told the man (Mark 3:3 Mark 3:3And he said to the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.
American King James Version×
, New International Version). Angered and grieved that their callous, hardened minds were incapable of grasping the most fundamental intent of God’s law, Jesus asked those watching, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

Unable or unwilling to answer, they remained silent. In front of the entire synagogue, Jesus healed the man’s hand, making it “completely restored.” Far from rejoicing at the blessing given the man, the Pharisees “went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3:4-6 Mark 3:4-6 4 And he said to them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 6 And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Rather than learning a vital spiritual lesson about the intent and purpose of both the Sabbath and Jesus Christ’s ministry, the Pharisees were infuriated that Jesus ignored their strict directives. Rather than considering a message of mercy and compassion in applying God’s law, they conspired to kill the Messenger.

Far from annulling the Sabbath, Jesus demonstrated that the Sabbath is an appropriate time to give aid and comfort to those in need. The Sabbath command didn’t instruct people on what they were to do on that day, just what they were not to do. Jesus clarified what was acceptable to God. “It is lawful [within God’s law] to do good on the Sabbath,” He declared (Matthew 12:12 Matthew 12:12How much then is a man better than a sheep? Why it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
American King James Version×
).

The Pharisees’ legalism had gone far beyond God’s stated commandment to not work and created a myriad of rules restricting even the very basics of human activity—something God never intended. Yet even the Pharisees’ regulations gave way to emergencies like getting a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11 Matthew 12:11And he said to them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
American King James Version×
). Jesus declared that the Sabbath was a day on which good could and should be done.

Some who oppose Sabbath observance view Christ’s statement that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” as ending any distinction of days for rest or other religious purposes. However, to conclude that Jesus annulled the Sabbath’s unique nature by teaching that it is lawful to do good on it, one must assume that it was originally unlawful to do good on that day. That is clearly not the case. As He frequently chided those who criticized Him, doing good was specifically allowed on the Sabbath, as it always had been (Matthew 12:12 Matthew 12:12How much then is a man better than a sheep? Why it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
American King James Version×
; Mark 3:4 Mark 3:4And he said to them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.
American King James Version×
; Luke 6:9 Luke 6:9Then said Jesus to them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?
American King James Version×
). The Sabbath is a day given by God for rest and religious observance, but this does not preclude doing good.

Jesus’ healing acts on the Sabbath also foreshadowed something much larger— the miraculous healings still to come in the messianic age when He will reign over the world. Isaiah prophesied of this time: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6 Isaiah 35:5-6 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The Savior’s actions on the Sabbath are a reminder of that coming time of peace, restoration and healing for all mankind.

Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath

Luke 13:10-17 Luke 13:10-17 10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said to her, Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity. 13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said to the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, see, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
American King James Version×
records another incident of Jesus’ healing of a chronically ill person on the Sabbath in the synagogue, in this case “a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up” (Luke 13:11 Luke 13:11And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
American King James Version×
). Calling her to Him, He laid His hands on her, “and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God” (Luke 12:12-13 Luke 12:12-13 12 For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say. 13 And one of the company said to him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
American King James Version×
).

The crowd, knowing that Jesus had just violated the narrow, restrictive prohibition against giving aid to an ill person unless the situation were life-threatening, waited to see what would happen next. The people didn’t have to wait long. “The ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day’ ” (Luke 13:14 Luke 13:14And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said to the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus would have none of this attitude. “Hypocrite!” He responded. “Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” His answer sank in on the crowd. “And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him” (Luke 13:15-17 Luke 13:15-17 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, see, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus stressed here that the Sabbath represents a time of liberation, of loosing from bondage, as we saw in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Deuteronomy 5:12-15 12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: 14 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. 15 And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
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, and so helps us further understand God’s intent for Sabbath observance. Even the Pharisees’ strict regulations allowed for the feeding and watering of animals on the Sabbath. If caring for the basic life needs of animals doesn’t break the Fourth Commandment, then how much more is “loosing” by healing appropriate on the Sabbath!

Jesus’ example reminds us that the Sabbath is an appropriate time to visit the sick and elderly, helping them celebrate the day as a time of freedom. As He proclaimed earlier, He came to “proclaim liberty to the captives [and] to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18 Luke 4:18The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
American King James Version×
)—referring to the glorious freedom and liberty from spiritual bondage that will be a hallmark of His coming rule as Messiah.

Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath

The next mention of the Sabbath during Christ’s ministry follows in Luke 14:1-6 Luke 14:1-6 1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. 2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. 3 And Jesus answering spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? 4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; 5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? 6 And they could not answer him again to these things.
American King James Version×
. Rather than in the synagogue, this incident took place in the home of a prominent Pharisee where Jesus had gone to share a meal on the Sabbath.

A man with a chronic health problem came before Him. Jesus pointedly asked the Jewish legal experts and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” None answered. Jesus healed the man, who promptly left the uneasy atmosphere of the gathering (Luke 14:2-4 Luke 14:2-4 2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. 3 And Jesus answering spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? 4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go;
American King James Version×
).

“Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” Jesus asked. Again, they had nothing to say (Luke 14:5-6 Luke 14:5-6 5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? 6 And they could not answer him again to these things.
American King James Version×
). Questions such as these had been debated among the Jewish religious teachers for years, and even they recognized that the command to rest didn’t include ignoring emergency situations in which life and limb were at stake.

Jesus’ approach was that when an opportunity to relieve suffering presents itself, the opportunity should be taken. God’s Sabbath command was never intended to prohibit doing good on that day. Jesus well knew the heart and core of God’s law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 Leviticus 19:18You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
). Both James and Paul understood that love was the intent and fulfillment of God’s law (James 2:8 James 2:8If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you do well:
American King James Version×
; Galatians 5:14 Galatians 5:14For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus’ example showed that every day is to be lived in the spirit and purpose of God’s law, which is  love.

Jesus heals an invalid on the Sabbath

John 5:1-18 John 5:1-18 1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of weak folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had. 5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he said to him, Will you be made whole? 7 The weak man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steps down before me. 8 Jesus said to him, Rise, take up your bed, and walk. 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said to him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for you to carry your bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said to me, Take up your bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said to you, Take up your bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed knew not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus finds him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, you are made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come to you. 15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. 16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. 17 But Jesus answered them, My Father works till now, and I work. 18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
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records a Sabbath healing not mentioned in the other Gospels, thereby adding another dimension to Christ’s activities on the Sabbath. In this instance, Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” Jesus told him (John 5:8 John 5:8Jesus said to him, Rise, take up your bed, and walk.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The man was instantly healed, took up the mat on which he had lain and walked away, only to be confronted by other Jews for carrying his mat. “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat,” they warned him (John 5:10 John 5:10The Jews therefore said to him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.
American King James Version×
, NIV). “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk,’” he replied.

After determining that it was Jesus who had performed the healing and told the man to carry his mat, they “persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16 John 5:16And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
American King James Version×
). Their view of the Sabbath was so distorted that they focused more on their own petty rules about what could not be carried on the Sabbath than on the wonderful healing of a man’s 38-year affliction!

Jesus’ response to their accusation of breaking the Sabbath angered His accusers even more. “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working,” He said. “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18 John 5:17-18 17 But Jesus answered them, My Father works till now, and I work. 18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
American King James Version×
).

Of course, what He broke was not God’s Sabbath command, but the Pharisees’ restrictive regulations regarding what they thought was allowable on the Sabbath. Jesus would not have broken the Sabbath, because He had earlier pronounced a curse on anyone who “breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so” (Matthew 5:19 Matthew 5:19Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
).

But what did Christ mean when He said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working”? The Life Application Bible, commenting on this verse, says: “If God stopped every kind of work on the Sabbath, nature would fall into chaos, and sin would overrun the world. Genesis 2:2 Genesis 2:2And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
American King James Version×
says that God rested on the seventh day, but this can’t mean that he stopped doing good. Jesus wanted to teach that when the opportunity to do good presents itself, it should not be ignored, even on the Sabbath.”

God made the Sabbath as a day of rest for mankind, not for Himself. He rested from His work of forming the world on the seventh day to show us that we should also rest from our normal work. But God continues some work without ceasing. Night and day, seven days a week, He works to bring people into His Kingdom. He works to help them grow spiritually on the Sabbath. He works constantly to build a close, personal relationship with His people.

According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus healed more people on the Sabbath than on any other day. He taught and preached on the Sabbath. Was He sinning? No. His activities were part of God’s work of helping people understand and ultimately enter the Kingdom of God and were therefore perfectly acceptable to God.

Circumcision and the Sabbath

In John 7:24 John 7:24Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
American King James Version×
Jesus summed up what should have been obvious to those who criticized Him for healing on the Sabbath: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” The Pharisees’ narrow, intolerant view focused more on outward appearance than anything else. Jesus upbraided them for their emphasis on physical things while neglecting more important matters such as justice, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
American King James Version×
).

To illustrate the extremes to which the Pharisees took their views, Jesus in the preceding verses used the example of circumcision. He pointed out that circumcision, a sign of the covenant between God and the nation of Israel, could be performed on the Sabbath without breaking it. And if this alteration of one of the 248 parts (by Jewish calculation) of the body could be done on the Sabbath, He argued, “Why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?” (John 7:22-23 John 7:22-23 22 Moses therefore gave to you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and you on the sabbath day circumcise a man. 23 If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are you angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The inconsistency of allowing the ritual of circumcision while outlawing mercy to those who needed healing was to callously disregard the intent of God’s law. It was in this context that Jesus warned His detractors in John 7:24 John 7:24Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
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, which the NIV renders as: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”

Rather than upholding God’s law by their added rules and regulations, their distorted view of God’s commands led them to actually break the law, according to Jesus (Matthew 23:3 Matthew 23:3All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not.
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, Matthew 23:28 Matthew 23:28Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
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; Mark 7:6-9 Mark 7:6-9 6 He answered and said to them, Well has Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 However, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things you do. 9 And he said to them, Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
American King James Version×
). “Not one of you keeps the law,” He told them (John 7:19 John 7:19Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keeps the law? Why go you about to kill me?
American King James Version×
, NIV), reproving them for their twisted interpretation of God’s law. They were not keeping the law correctly, and Jesus restored its proper understanding and practice.

Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath

Jesus used the incident of healing a blind man on the Sabbath in John 9:1-34 John 9:1-34 1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 3 Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. 4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night comes, when no man can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. 6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, 7 And said to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. 8 The neighbors therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? 9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. 10 Therefore said they to him, How were your eyes opened? 11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight. 12 Then said they to him, Where is he? He said, I know not. 13 They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind. 14 And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. 15 Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said to them, He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and do see. 16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keeps not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them. 17 They say to the blind man again, What say you of him, that he has opened your eyes? He said, He is a prophet. 18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight. 19 And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who you say was born blind? how then does he now see? 20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: 21 But by what means he now sees, we know not; or who has opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. 22 These words spoke his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him. 24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said to him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. 25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. 26 Then said they to him again, What did he to you? how opened he your eyes? 27 He answered them, I have told you already, and you did not hear: why would you hear it again? will you also be his disciples? 28 Then they reviled him, and said, You are his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from where he is. 30 The man answered and said to them, Why herein is a marvelous thing, that you know not from where he is, and yet he has opened my eyes. 31 Now we know that God hears not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and does his will, him he hears. 32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. 33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. 34 They answered and said to him, You were altogether born in sins, and do you teach us? And they cast him out.
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to twice proclaim His messiahship. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day … As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5 John 9:4-5 4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night comes, when no man can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
American King James Version×
). He then healed the man of his blindness.

The Pharisees caught up with the recently healed man, then interrogated and intimidated him. “This Man [Jesus] is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath,” they argued (John 9:16 John 9:16Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keeps not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
American King James Version×
). The man countered, “This is a marvelous thing … He has opened My eyes! … If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:30-33 John 9:30-33 30 The man answered and said to them, Why herein is a marvelous thing, that you know not from where he is, and yet he has opened my eyes. 31 Now we know that God hears not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and does his will, him he hears. 32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. 33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
American King James Version×
).

Angered at having their authority questioned and their opinions challenged, “they cast him out,” excommunicating the man from the synagogue (John 9:34 John 9:34They answered and said to him, You were altogether born in sins, and do you teach us? And they cast him out.
American King James Version×
). He was condemned as a heretic, cut off from family and friends.

Jesus sought out the man He had healed. “Do you believe in the Son of God?” Jesus asked.

“Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” the man replied.

“You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you,” Christ answered. The man then accepted Jesus as the Son of God. At this, Christ said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind” (John 9:35-39 John 9:35-39 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said to him, Do you believe on the Son of God? 36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 37 And Jesus said to him, You have both seen him, and it is he that talks with you. 38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. 39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus Christ again made it clear that He was the Messiah, the very Son of God. In this incident He continued to teach, as He did so many times on the Sabbath, of His redemptive work for mankind.

Did Jesus change the law?

These accounts summarize the specific activities of Christ on the Sabbath recorded in the four Gospels. As stated earlier, some see only what they want to see in these verses—supposed proof that Jesus broke the Fourth Commandment. However, as the Scriptures actually show, He did no such thing. He did ignore the misguided, restrictive regulations the religious leaders attached to the Sabbath, often showing where they were wrong. But He never broke God’s commandments. Had He done so, He would have sinned (1 John 3:4 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×
), yet Jesus never sinned. He lived a sinless life so He could be our perfect sacrifice, the Savior of all mankind (1 Peter 2:22 1 Peter 2:22Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
American King James Version×
; Ephesians 5:2 Ephesians 5:2And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
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; 1 John 4:14 1 John 4:14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
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).

It would have been unthinkable for Jesus to disobey God’s commandments. He said of Himself, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He [God the Father] does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19 John 5:19Then answered Jesus and said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do: for what things soever he does, these also does the Son likewise.
American King James Version×
).

What did Jesus do? In His own words, He did exactly what the Father did. Yet some mistakenly think He came to overturn God’s holy law and remove it as a standard of guidance and behavior for mankind.

“I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me,” He said (John 5:30 John 5:30I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me.
American King James Version×
). Christ’s motivation was to please the Father. What the Father wanted was most important to Him.

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work,” He told the disciples (John 4:34 John 4:34Jesus said to them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.
American King James Version×
). That was His motivation, His reason for living—to do the will of God the Father. Through Christ’s teaching on the Sabbaths during His earthly ministry, He revealed God’s will and determined to carry out God’s work in spite of the opposition and persecution that came with it, ultimately bringing about His cruel torture and death.

Jesus Christ’s clear statement

Jesus Himself clearly denied that He intended to change or abolish the Sabbath or any part of God’s law. “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” He said. “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17 Matthew 5:17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
American King James Version×
).

The Greek word pleroo, translated “fulfill” here, means “to make full, to fill, to fill up … to fill to the full” or “to render full” ( Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2005, “Fulfill”). In other words, Jesus said He came to fill the law to the full—to complete it and make it perfect. How? By showing the spiritual intent and application of God’s law. His meaning is clear from the remainder of the chapter, where He showed the full spiritual intent of specific commandments.

Some distort the meaning of “fulfill” to have Jesus saying, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to end it by fulfilling it.” This is entirely inconsistent with His own words. Through the remainder of the chapter, He showed that the spiritual application of the law made it an even higher standard of behavior and thought , not that it was annulled or no longer necessary.

Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t abolishing any of God’s law: “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18 Matthew 5:18For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
American King James Version×
). Here a different Greek word is used for “fulfilled”— ginomai, meaning “to become, i.e. to come into existence” or “to come to pass” ( Thayer’s ). Only after everything necessary would come to pass would any of God’s law pass from existence, said Christ.

To prevent any possible misunderstanding, He warned those who would try to abolish God’s law: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great [by those] in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 Matthew 5:19Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus, by explaining, expanding and exemplifying God’s law, fulfilled a prophecy of the Messiah found in Isaiah 42:21 Isaiah 42:21The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable.
American King James Version×
: “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (King James Version). The Hebrew word gadal, translated “magnify,” literally means “to be or become great” (William Wilson, Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, “Magnify”). Jesus Christ did exactly that, showing the true purpose and scope of God’s Sabbath rest.

We are to follow Jesus’ example

When asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered: “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:28-30 Mark 12:28-30 28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment.
American King James Version×
).

Here Christ restated the greatest commandment of the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5 Deuteronomy 6:4-5 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
American King James Version×
). Those who observe the biblical Sabbath strive to obey that commandment, putting God first in their lives and keeping His command to observe the Sabbath. They will also follow Jesus’ instruction: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21 John 14:21He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus Christ is our Lord and Master (Philippians 2:9-11 Philippians 2:9-11 9 Why God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
American King James Version×
). He also proclaimed that He is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 Mark 2:28Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
American King James Version×
), so we should follow His example in observing the Sabbath—and all God’s commandments—in the way He taught and lived (1 John 2:6 1 John 2:6He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
American King James Version×
).

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